Accident statistics for renewables only offer a partial glimpse of how health and safety is managed in the industry, but even that limited view suggests that the sector can be a dangerous one.
Figures from health and safety body G+ show that UK offshore renewables has an accident rate nearly four times higher than offshore oil and gas.
While the renewables industry may be notable for its innovation, many of the incidents described in the G+ report will be familiar to workplaces up and down the country.
Manual handling is the biggest single cause of injury, while work at height lags not far behind. These are risks that are well understood across industries and should be better managed, particularly in a sector that sets people to work up to 100m over the freezing North Sea.
But it’s not just offshore that can be dangerous. Onshore renewables have seen a number of high profile accidents in recent years, including a worker dying after being stranded in bad weather at a remote windfarm, a contractor falling down a turbine tower and a series of turbine fires.
Even those working in offices – often mistakenly perceived to be low risk – face their own concoction of risks. We know from Prospect’s recent members’ survey that energy sector workers are facing mounting workloads, stress and an overbearing management culture.
Renewables may employ cutting edge technology, but the risks workers face are all too familiar. But when it comes to managing the risks at work, Prospect has a huge collective knowledge to draw on.
Trade unions are the most effective tool we have in ensuring good health and safety at work. Research and practice has shown it again and again.
One study found that the more trade unionists there are in a workplace, the fewer injuries and cases of ill health. Another found that when employers work with trade unions, accidents are reduced by 50%.
Prospect’s health and safety reps working in renewables, and across the broader energy sector, make a difference in their workplaces day in, day out. Whether it’s fatigue, stress, competency standards or safety systems for working with electricity, we have a long track record of driving improvements to working conditions.
These hardworking volunteers are supported at a national level with advice, information and training. Prospect has recently launched WorkSafe, an energy sector health and safety campaign that addresses members’ most pressing issues, including stress, lone working and driving.
Relatively speaking, renewables is a new industry, and doesn’t have the history of managing risk that other parts of the energy sector does. This forced the Health and Safety Executive, in 2015, to challenge the industry to improve the way it manages health and safety.
Under the close scrutiny of the regulator, improvements have been made, but it is only by employers working with unions that renewables can be made a healthier and safer industry for all employees.